The Roman amphitheatre at Italica seated 25,000
|Location||Province of Seville, Spain|
|Builder||Publius Cornelius Scipio|
The modern town of Santiponce overlies part of the pre-Roman Iberian settlement and the Roman city.
Italica was founded in 206 BC by the great Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio (later given the nickname Africanus) to settle his victorious veterans from the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, and close enough to the Guadalquivir to control the area. The name Italica reflected the veterans' Italian origins.
The "old town" or urbs vetus dating from the Republican period lies under the present town of Santiponce.
The nearby native and Roman city of Hispalis (Seville) would always remain a larger city, but Italica became an important centre of Roman culture. Italica was later the birthplace of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian (and possibly Theodosius I), and thrived especially under the patronage of Hadrian. He expanded the city northwards as the urbs nova or "new city" and elevated it to the status of colonia as Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica upon its request, even though Hadrian expressed his surprise as it already enjoyed the rights of "Municipium".
He added temples, including a Trajaneum venerating Trajan, and rebuilt public buildings. Italica’s amphitheatre seated 25,000 spectators, half as many as the Colosseum in Rome and the third largest in the Roman Empire, even though the city's population at the time is estimated to have been only 8,000, and shows that the local elite demonstrated status that extended far beyond Italica itself through the games and theatrical performances they funded as magistrates and public officials. In the same period was built a new elite quarter with several beautiful (and expensive) houses decorated with splendid mosaics visible today.
However at the end of the 2nd century AD the city began to decline for political and economic reasons, without ever being completed.
Later history and first excavations
A shift of the Guadalquivir River bed, probably due to siltation— a widespread problem in antiquity that followed removal of the forest cover—left Italica isolated, high and dry. The city started to dwindle as early as the 3rd century. Seville continued to grow nearby, and no modern city covered most of Italica's foundations. The result is an unusually well-preserved Roman city of Hispania Baetica, and unexpected riches in the Museo Arqueologico of Seville, with its famous marble colossus of Trajan. In Italica, cobbled Roman streets are visible, and mosaic floors still in situ. Italica was important enough in late Antiquity to have a bishop of its own, and had a garrison during the Visigothic age.
The ruins were later the subject of visits, admiration and despair by many foreign travelers who wrote about and sometimes illustrated their impressions. Italica's prestige, history and fame were not enough, however, to save it from being the subject of continued looting, and a permanent quarry for materials from the Arab period, and even into more enlightened ages. In 1740 the city of Seville ordered demolition of the walls of the amphitheater to build a dam on the Guadalquivir, and in 1796 the urbs vetus was used to build the new Camino Real of Extremadura. The first law of protection for the site took effect in 1810 under the Napoleonic occupation, reinstating its old name of Italica, and allocating an annual budget for regular excavation.
One of the first excavators was the British textile merchant and Seville resident Nathan Wetherell, who uncovered nearly 20 Roman inscriptions in the vicinity of Italica in the 1820s that were later donated to the British Museum. Regular excavation, however, did not materialise until 1839-1840. By Royal Order of 1912 Italica was declared a National Monument, but it was not until 2001 that the archaeological site of Italica and the areas of protection were clearly defined.
The archaeological site of Italica encompasses the urbs nova.
Following extensive excavations and the building of visitor facilities, Italica is now a popular destination for tourists.
The ruins of the city also host an annual cross country running competition every January: the Cross Internacional de Itálica. The mass race and children's competitions attract hundreds of participants each year. The senior international competition has featured numerous world champions and (with IAAF permit meeting status) it is one of the world's foremost annual cross country competitions.
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